February 28, 2009

Time to begin my reviews on films I saw on Zagreb Dox Film Festival that occupied me completely over the last five days.

Although I started watching films which were selected in the programme entitled Happy Dox, I’m gonna start with film from the competition programme and that’s animated film Slaves by Hanna Heilborn & David Aronowitsch.


Story AB (c)

Since the theme of the film are two small kids – former slaves, you can’t possibly prepare yourself not to react or not to feel like somebody has smashed your brain and heart on the pavement. The film is based on conversation with two children about their experiences of being held captive by the government- backed militia in the civil war in southern Sudan. This country has been involved on many occasions into child slavery over the last 15 years.

slaves4.jpgStory AB (c)

We were abducted my mother, father, sister and me. Then they killed my parents and separated me from my sister. I was five, Abuk tells us in a low voice. I stayed with one of  the men who kidnapped us and took care of his goats. Slaves are about Abuk, nine, and Machiek, fifteen. Like thousands of other children they were taken by government sponsored militia in Sudan and used as slaves. They were later liberated by an organization headed by James Aguer. Slaves is based on an interview made in 2003 and is the second film in a series of animated documentaries with and about children in difficult situations by David Aronowitsch and Hanna Heilborn. (

slaves5.jpgStory AB (c)

The family names of the two children have been bleeped out to protect their privacy. The animation and design by Mats Johansson/Acne Jr., Magnus Östergren and Degaussian were made in a sort of cut-out visual technique that emphasizes the physiognomy of interviewers – particularly for the kids and translator.

It’s interesting that designer and animators haven’t used this technique in order to manipulate, but to protect kids identities and not losing documentary authenticity; using shaded colors that perfectly fits the atmosphere and meaning of outspoken destinies.

slaves1.jpgStory AB (c)

Kids’ low voices while they are talking about the most horrific things that happened in their lives, beside animation technique,  are the strongest line of this film. Thingz that grown up people are not capable to articulate, are spoken here by small kids with ruined lives.

The most striking moment of the film is the end when answering to the question how they see their future, Machiek quietly said that he wants to be a teacher, and Abuk shyly smiling with her head down says that she wants to be a doctor.

slaves6.jpgStory AB (c)

In length of 15 minutes, Slaves gives a cutaway of brutality and evilness of atrocities in Africa that nobody is willing to solve, because Africa had been for a long time only a platform, a living laboratory for testing how far can we go in ignorance.

You can see excerpt from the film here

Slaves were till now presented at international film festivals, just to name a few here: IDFA – International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (Silver Cub Award, Best Short Documentary IDFA 2008); Thessaloniki Documentary Festival; One World – International Human Rights Documentary Films Festival; Nordisk Panorama 08; True/False Film Festival; Cinequest Film Festival; Berlin International Film Festival.

slaves3.jpgStory AB (c)

Facts on authors (by Swedish Film Institute):
Hanna Heilborn was born in 1968. Educated at New York Film School and at Sweden’s Institute of Drama. Works as a director, scriptwriter, dramaturgist and animation instructor – all with a documentary base. She lectures at a number of art and design schools. Her leaning towards art and design can be felt in the prize-winning animated documentary Gömd/Hidden (2002), made together with David Aronowitsch and Mats Johansson. Among recent films are Big Mike (2004) about an aboriginal guy going back to his roots, Tjejsnack/Girls talk – a MTV trilogy of short documentaries about the life of teenage girls on drugs and around 20 installations and informational films for The Technical Museum of Sweden.

slaves7.jpgStory AB (c)

David Aronowitsch, born 1964 in Stockholm, studied directing at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, 1988-91. First short documentary in 1988 and first longer documentary in 1994, Night of the Gypsies, together with Göran Olsson. Among other later films are Stockholm-75 (2003) and the globally screened short film Gömd/Hidden (2002), an animated documentary made together with Hanna Heilborn and Mats Johansson. Producer of the television series Ikon for SVT in 2001 and 2002.

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